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Celebrating the Holidays and Gift Giving

American holidays may be very difficult for the families of origin of the Muslim converts and for Muslims in general. Office parties featuring alcohol, dancing, and/or flirting relationships; the giving of gifts such as liquor, hams, turkeys; national or Christian religious ceremonies and decorations-all these are unacceptable to Muslims. Avoidance of holiday celebrations may be the behavioral norm for Muslims in the business world. For the families, holiday times have been worked out in a variety of ways. Some of the women respondents refused to be part of the traditional Western celebrations at all. Others have modified the celebrations in order to be with the family. Still others participate in almost the same way as before.

My children have the best of both religions. My parents and in-laws make a big deal about Christmas. We accept their gifts and explain the concept to our boys. They don't serve us pork or alcoholic beverages. My family is my life. No problems. Lots of love-always was! Thanksgiving seems to be one holiday that can most easily be worked through if halal meat or an alternative is served. Attitudes toward participation may change as the couple have children, and the Muslims may feel a need to withdraw from holidays they are now celebrating that reflect non-Muslim religious holidays or even national holidays. Birthdays may not be celebrated in the same way as non-Muslims and activities may need to be negotiated. Muslim holidays are of great importance to the Muslims, and they celebrate with great commitment. Eid al-Fitr, the most important celebration of the year, is on the first day after the month of Ramadan (the month of fasting). Gifts are sometimes given, cards are sent, and families of origin may be included if it is convenient and families are willing. This inclusion seems to be an exception, however, for Eid is most often celebrated with other Muslims. The women have found many problems with celebrating Christian or national holidays with their birth families and have had to determine the extent to which they were willing to be with the family at such times.

I try to avoid talking about the "holidays." My brother and sisters understand that I don't celebrate them, and they respect me for it. But my parents don't understand and keep asking every year if I'm coming over for the holidays and what to do with the presents they got for me, my husband, and kids.

My father's mother was ill when he was young, and his father was an alcoholic. My mother's birth mom abandoned her at two years of age. So my parents always tried to do special things during the holidays with my brother and me (we were the only family they felt they had). My not celebrating Christmas any longer was especially hard for them. We accommodated their feelings with much compromise on their part. They may buy our children Christmas gifts and the children may only open them after we read and recite passages from the Qur'an regarding Jesus' birth, Mary, the Mother of Jesus and commandments about what to believe in the Qur'an. Thanksgiving is enjoyed with halal (Islamically allowed) turkey killed in the prescribed manner but no baked ham. We've basically turned it into a good excuse to eat together! My parents agree that is most important. It helps establish and maintain family bonds and memories.

My mom, dad, and brother get anxious for Eid gifts which now take the place of Christmas gifts. I really try to emphasize the Islamic holidays for the sake of my children. I do get a lot of competition with my mom and Christmas, so I have to emphasize Islamic holidays more than most.

My family doesn't really follow Christmas as a Christian holiday (not as Christ's birthday), but since everybody usually has Christmas off and many brothers and sisters have married those who do practice, we now have a family dinner and some exchange gifts. I would like to include my family more in our Islamic celebrations. But many times that means traveling two or three hours to where other Muslims gather. There have not been that many chances. Often the main part of celebration is a special congregational prayer, which they would not participate in anyway, since they are not Muslim.

I send Eid cards and candy to my nieces and nephews.

Last Eid was the first time I gave presents to my family in exchange for the presents they gave us at Christmas. For my Islamic holidays, Eid al--Fitr and Eid al-Adha, I send my mom Eid cards that are homemade. And I will put such things as: Hadith-Heaven lies below the mother's feet, etc. I invite them to eat at the park or at the mosque during the Islamic holidays. My mom and my sister do come to see what it is like. Because they live in another state, my family has never participated in any of our Islamic celebrations. They keep their distance, and we each allow the other to be as we are. I call some of my relatives on the telephone, and I send letters or cards at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sometimes if I cannot reach them on Christmas, I call them and wish them a Happy New Year on the first day of January. When we first got married, we went for Christmas and exchanged gifts. But this year we have a child, and we need to get them used to the idea of our not being involved in Christmas. My parents sent us gifts this year and we thanked them, but we didn't give them any. And we didn't send out cards. We do plan on celebrating Eid, and we are going to send them a card to explain what we do. Hopefully it won't be an issue by the time our daughter is older. I do want her to know my side of the family, so we will have to work on how to do that. I think that for my family of origin the main point of stress was probably Christmas-whether it's okay to give us gifts, include us for dinner, etc. It took a lot of time and talk to come to terms with Christmas because I cannot turn my back on my family of origin. My husband and I joined my family for dinner and received gifts from them with the understanding that this is a celebration in which we do not participate and that we wouldn't be reciprocating the gift exchange. We will, however, reciprocate by including my family in our Islamic celebrations. Everyone was in agreement with this idea and the spirit of the "season" was not dampened.

My family doesn't show any interest in our Islamic holidays. I tell them about them a few weeks or a month ahead of time, but they don't seem to care, and I think they avoid being around us during that time. Gift giving goes along with holiday and birthday times. Being open to discussions on how these occasions could be observed helps preserve the joy of sharing as a family or in the office setting. Creating some new traditions that respect each other's feelings might make the occasion more special than ever.

Parents (or other relatives) may find it best to forego giving Muslims presents on non-Muslim holidays, choosing instead to give gifts at other times, either on their holidays or just for the sake of giving. One could also find out when Eid is and ask about sending gifts then, checking to see what gifts are appropriate. American toys such as Batman, the Turtles, Power Rangers, or Barbie and Ken may be completely off-limits. Even clothes with Thomas the Tank Engine or bed sheets with Barney may not be acceptable. If parents talk it over with their daughter, they will probably discover she has some good ideas. Then if parents want to give gifts, they can follow the guidelines agreed on and do it with joy. They know we are Muslim and that we don't celebrate Christian holidays the same way they do. My mother sometimes sends gifts to our children for no particular reason-just because she sees something they might like. She also sends gifts at Christmas time. We accept them as gifts for the New Year. We celebrate Jesus' birth, may God's peace be upon him, with a prayer.

My family of origin lives far from us and have very little understanding of Islam and the Eid holidays. So far, they have not been included in our Islamic celebrations, but if they lived closer to us they would be included as much as they would like to be. My sisters and parents (father and stepmother) are sensitive to the fact that we don't celebrate Christian holidays. They always ask before giving or doing anything which could be construed to be related to such holidays. They respect our holidays. I have no concerns about the children with them. It helps that we have a varied family encompassing many types of religions: Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim. It is an unspoken family rule to respect others' beliefs so long as they aren't harming themselves or others. Both my parents' families do this.

Adapted from: "Daughters Of Another Path (Experience of American Women Choosing Islam)" by: "Carol L. Anway"

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